Right after I graduated from college, I was the engineer on a geotechnical drilling rig. Basically, this type of rig is mounted on a truck or all-terrain vehicle of some sort and are relatively small for the drilling world. The tower is usually about 30-40 feet high. On the rig, there are a variety of winches, cables and of course the drilling auger itself which goes down into the ground like a big steel screw. With all this heavy metal around, it can be a dangerous place, especially if something snaps, falls, breaks, etc.
One week, we were trying out a new driller’s helper on the rig. With all the horsepower and hydraulics, and our stern safety speech, this guy was understandably nervous. In fact, even though it probably violated safety codes, none of us wore hardhats. I mean, if a 130 lb steel “hammer” falls on your head from 30 feet, heck, even 5 feet, a hard hat isn’t going to save you. We all decided it would be better to see what was coming and have a chance to get out of the way rather than be oblivious to what’s above and only find out what happened when St. Peter told you.
One of the things we were doing was drilling down every five feet, and then driving a “spoon” which is just a big split piece of steel pipe with a threaded cap on the end. The spoon was used to take soil samples. The way we measure the stiffness of the soil is to count how many blows with the 130lb hammer it takes to push the spoon six inches into the ground. We consider the first six inches the set, and the next twelve inches the measure of the soil strength.
The first little mishap of the day was when our new helper was snugging up a hook to the back of the rig using one of our steel-cable wound winches. Instead of getting the hook snagged good, he just caught the tip of the hook in it’s holder on the back of the rig. When he hit the hydraulics, this 3lb hook all of sudden had several hundred pounds of tension on it, it let loose and “ping” went flying straight back. Unfortunately, our geologist was standing right there and this hook missed his head by about six inches. That was the first time I saw one of my guys cheat death on a drill rig.
In our safety meetings with the new guy, we talked about the best places to go in case bad things happened. It really depends on where you are in relation to the rig. Sometimes, the very best thing to do is dive straight up under the truck. Other times, getting away from the tower is the way to go.
Well, back to our soil sampling. The way it works is that the driller will drive the spoon the required 18 inches and then yell out three numbers to the engineer. So, if the spoon takes 3 blows to set, 5 blows to drive the next six inches and 7 blows to drive the last six inches, he yells out “Three – Five – Seven”. That way I could record the numbers on our soil logging sheet before the spoon came out of the ground, I broke it open and recorded the soil type(s) inside.
This particular day, we were working in a big field. I don’t remember where in Georgia we were. Things went well all morning, and through lunch, except for the errant hook incident with our geologist.
Just to see how tough our new helper was, we were needling and picking at him all the time. Sometimes that’s the best way to figure out if a guy is going to be able to work fast, do it right, keep safe and also watch out for problems with the rig, etc. There’s a heck of a lot to pay attention to all at the same time. After lunch, I got into a fake argument with my driller. He knew I was messing around, but the driller’s helper didn’t. I remember him giving us both a couple of looks, wondering if we were crazy.
On a drill rig, yelling is the way to go. It’s the only way to communicate effectively. In a corner of the field, in sort of a wet area, we set up to do another soil boring. We put the hydraulic feet down on the rig, leveling it up. We raised the hydraulic tower up above the spot we were planning to drill. Then we attached the drilling auger and drill bit. A little goose of the engine’s throttle and we had enough RPM’s to start drilling. After about eight feet, we knew the soils in this spot were pretty weak because of the easy drilling. The driller attached a spoon to the drive string and he set up to start pounding away with the 130lb hammer. I was over at the side of the rig writing up all the pertinent information we needed to log this particular bore hole. I heard three loud steel-pinging taps coming from the back of the rig. The next thing I heard was “One – One – One” being yelled by my driller. I thought to myself, “well this soil is going to be labelled as baby poop, because that’s about how strong it is”. As I wrote down the 1-1-1 on the 8.5 to 10 foot section of my drill log, I heard what distinctly sounded like laughing coming from the back of the rig. That’s not a normal sound on a drill rig, so I peeked around under one of the feet and saw my driller and the geologist rolling on the ground behind the rig, completely redfaced. My first thought was they had been knocked silly or something. As I walked around the back of the rig where they were, I noticed they were pointing across the field. As I followed their fingers, all I saw was the back of a white T-shirt and blue jeans getting smaller quickly as our new driller’s helper ran pretty dang fast across the field.
When my driller and geologist recovered their senses and could talk, I asked “What happened?”. I reckoned some yellow jackets or bees had gotten after the boy. Between tears and chuckles, my driller explained that as soon as he yelled the blow counts “One – One – One” over to me, this guy took off like a rocket across the field. Immediately they both knew that our new and nervous helper heard “Run – Run – Run”, and not waiting to see what bad fate was about to befall himself or one of us, he put distance between him and the rig. I swear that guy ran 200 yards in about 18 seconds before he ever turned around to see what was going on. When he finally got back to the rig, sure enough, his brain heard “Run – Run – Run” just like we thought. Needless to say, for his sake and ours, we paid him that Friday and advised him to find a safer line of work. Ever since that day, if we ever had a “One – One – One” blow count, we always yelled it out “Run – Run – Run”.